A provincial Throne Speech is supposed to be a plan that describes the vision and sets the table for policy guidance and delivery from a governing party.
The NDP delivered their speech from the throne on Friday, however, it was overshadowed at the start with the surprise announcement that a Liberal MLA had agreed to serve as Speaker of the House.
Darryl Plecas, the MLA for Abbotsford-South, defied his party’s ultimatum that no Liberals would volunteer for the Speaker position, which is determined by a secret-ballot vote.
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka said the announcement was disappointing.
“One of the first things I noticed when I got into caucus, is that I sat and shared a room with people of the highest integrity and highest honour, and I was really star struck by that,” Shypitka said.
“This move by the member from Abbotsford-South is anything but that. Our party leader [Rich Coleman] described it as a betrayal — it was. [Plecas] has been on record several times saying there was no way he’d take the speaker’s role — he said it’d be one of dishonour; anybody who took that role would be dishonourable, yet he chose to do this.”
Following Plecas’ decision to serve as speaker, his party membership was revoked and he was booted from caucus, according to a BC Liberal press release.
The role of the Speaker is to maintain order and decorum during legislative sessions and to enforce parliamentary procedure. Typically, the speaker is neutral and can only cast a vote to break a tie.
With Plecas serving as Speaker, it removes a vote from the Liberal ranks, which now have 42, while the NDP have 41 and the Greens have three, clearing the NDP/Green alliance from having to use the speaker to cast a tiebreak.
“It props up the NDP, it gives them some wiggle room,” Shypitka said. “We all know that. It’s essentially jumping to the other side. It’s disappointing. We’ll move forward from this, we’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and now we’re stronger because of it.”
In terms of policy contained within the throne speech, there weren’t any surprises from what the NDP campaigned on during the election. Topics addressed in the speech included increased education funding, additional childcare spaces, raising income assistance rates, and setting up a fair wages commission to eye a move to a $15 minimum wage.
Shypitka says the speech was light on specifics.
“The throne speech on Friday was a warming up of a NDP/Green agenda but it was deliberately vague on any details,” he said. “Where campaign finance reform was once the first thing the BC NDP would do, now it’s just a pledge to check off at a later date.
“There was a firm commitment on $10-a-day daycare; that was a big deal during the campaign — that has now disappeared and has been replaced by the less specific universal childcare.”
He accused the NDP of being silent on a plan for creating economic growth and voiced concern on some of the discourse around large capital projects.
“They talk about an economy that works for everyone, but so far, all they’ve done is create an economy where no one will be working — threatening Site C, Kinder Morgan and cancelling the Massey tunnel, just to name a couple,” Shypitka said.
Shypitka added that the NDP inherited one of the strongest provincial economies in the country from the previous Liberal government and that as opposition, the Liberals will be holding the NDP accountable for their spending promises.
A budget update on Monday afternoon from the NDP government included a 50 per cent cut in the Medical Services Premiums at the start of 2018 and cancelled an application process to make it easier for families and employers.
The individual income threshold was bumped up to $26,000 for MSP payments to take effect, while a couple with two children are exempt from MSP payments with an income up to $35,000.
The budget update also included a 17 per cent carbon tax increases on fuel and the revenue-neutral caveat for the carbon tax is being amended so that revenues can be spent on green initiatives.
Personal income taxes on income over $150,000 a year will go up by two per cent on April 1, while corporate tax rates are going up by one percentage point to 12 per cent.
Small business tax rate goes down to two per cent and the NDP is cutting provincial sales tax from business electricity bills by 50 per cent and fully eliminating it by 2019.
With files from Tom Fletcher